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East Marion civic group works to add two more historical feathers to district's hat

A church on Main Road in East Marion.

A church on Main Road in East Marion. The hamlet's Main Road Historic District has been recommended for placement on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Credit: Randee Daddona

Two years of shoe-leather-style research by a group of volunteers have brought East Marion’s Main Road Historic District one step closer to recognition on both the state and national historic registers.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced in June that the state’s Board for Historic Preservation had listed the 1.2-mile Main Road district as one of 18 properties, districts and resources statewide recommended for placement on the state and national registers of historic places.

Volunteers with the East Marion Community Association submitted a 109-page application to the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior. They said they hope that the primarily residential Main Road district being deemed historic will preserve the character of a place whose roots stretch back as far as the early 1600s. 

“The driving force behind this is that we passionately believe that East Marion has a story to tell. That it should be shared, it should be remembered, and it should be honored,” said Bill Clayton, 73, of East Marion, one of 13 volunteers on the association's Historic District Committee assembled to put together the hamlet’s application.

After the civic group was formed in 2007, people began asking whether it was possible to make the area a historic district, said Ruth Ann Bramson, the committee's chairwoman. In April 2017, the group began to research the history of Main Road and East Marion.

Though others seeking to form historic districts normally hire a consultant, East Marion volunteers said they opted to do the research themselves, a process that took about two years of interviews with homeowners and researching old newspaper clippings in local libraries, among other methods.

Anne Murray, the civic group’s president, called the research efforts “really amazing work.”

“There’s details about all the homes," Murray said. "They visited every home, they talked to all the homeowners they could find . . . it’s really quite detailed. They did a lot of historic research. It was an enormous undertaking and it’s a very valuable thing, I think.”

Among the interesting facts uncovered in their research was possible evidence that East Marion may have been where Manhattan clam chowder originated. Their application also details how the district was transformed during a two-century span from a fishing and farming economy to one more reliant on rentals and vacations.

 As there were no previous restrictions on development for the area, the civic association is hoping that ultimately a historic designation will mean that any future major developments — such as widening Main Road — would have to undergo stringent review. While it would not prevent major construction, Murray said, a historic designation would assure the area remains in its original state and retains its historic character while raising home values.

The group expects to learn by mid-fall whether the Main Road district is granted the historic designation.

“I think having a historic district makes people appreciate what we have and not want to come in and start ripping things down,” Murray said.

MAKING HISTORY

  • Historically a fishing and farming community, the Main Road district was settled in the 17th century, and the architecture of the homes reflects the settlement and growth of East Marion from the mid-18th century through the mid-20th century, according to the application from the East Marion Community Association.
  • The district contains about 110 properties, of which 85 are deemed “contributing properties.” That means those properties and structures span the area’s period of significance from 1757 to 1953, according to the civic group.
  • The inspiration for designating the area as historic dates to the mid-1980s, said Ruth Ann Bramson, a volunteer with the civic association. During that time, a study issued by The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities — now known as Preservation Long Island — suggested East Marion had the resources to become a historic district.

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